Catherine Wines, Co-founder   08 March 2018

In her Oscar acceptance speech, Frances McDormand asked all the women in the room to rise to their feet. It was a prime-time TV moment in a movement that is now sweeping many sectors and businesses: the overdue recognition of women and their contribution to our societies.

For me, one particular group of women deserves to be celebrated. They can’t conjur a Hollywood spotlight to draw attention to their work, yet without them many around the globe would be worse off. They travel thousands of miles, often at considerable personal cost, to make a better future for themselves and their families. Women make up almost half of migrants globally – and it’s time that their positive contribution was acknowledged. 

As the co-founder of a digital company which deals in the migrant money transfers – the so-called remittance market - I am acutely aware of the sacrifices these women make. Our women customers live and work in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and Norway, sending money to countries such as the Philippines, Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Kenya. They are predominantly employed in healthcare and their work benefits public services in their host countries but is also vital to relatives back home.

Women’s remittances create opportunities

Regular remittance payments can keep families from slipping into penury – as highlighted by a 32-year-old Zimbabwean customer employed as a support worker in the UK. She sometimes sends half her monthly salary home. Without her money there would be "no food on the table", she tells us. Many of her relatives can’t find a job and her support has provided for more than 20 people at different times. 

In other cases, the extra help creates opportunities for the next generation. Many of our customers pay for the education of children in their extended family. A lawyer from Uganda now living in the UK says she stepped in at the last minute to pay for a child whose family couldn’t afford the fees for a crucial examination.

These unsung acts of kindness are vital on an individual level, but also add up to a much bigger benefit for developing countries. Evidence suggests that although women migrants tend to earn less than men, they send a higher proportion of their income more frequently and consistently than men.  And  despite all the airtime given to international aid, it’s worth noting that the $450 billion worth of remittances to the developing world in 2017 was almost three times the amount of international development assistance.  

Digital innovation is helping women

Digital innovation is also helping the money sent by our customers to go further, benefiting women recipients in particular. An emerging market technology known as mobile money enables funds to be sent directly to a mobile phone, meaning you don’t have to have a bank account to access money and pay for goods.

Receiving money directly enables women to have much more control over household budgets and it literally cuts out the middle man as until mobile money came along, it was usually a man who was sent to pick up a money transfer from a bank or kiosk. A study carried out by the US university, MIT, found access to mobile money in Kenya reduceed extreme poverty in female-headed households and helped women diversify into small businesses, such as vegetable selling.